Days after getting better of the West Indies in a three-match Test series, England are all set to lock horns with Pakistan in the longest format, starting August 5.
The tourists are on a good run of form against their opponents, having won two of their last four Test series contested, while the other two ended in a draw. England meanwhile, are still seeking their first series win over Pakistan in a decade, and thus, a lot will be at stake when the two sides take to the pitch in the first Test at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
That said, we look at two players from each team who are certain to be in the spotlight.
England skipper Joe Root returned to the Test setup after personal reasons forced him out of the first game against the West Indies, which England lost by four wickets. He didn’t have a great impact in the second Test, but made up for it with an unbeaten 68 off just 56 balls in the final game as England clinched the series 2-1.
Root has registered an unwanted record in his career as England captain. On the final day of the second Test against the West Indies, Root threw his wicket for an in-form Ben Stokes, and that was followed by another run-out in the final Test, which made him the English Test captain with most run-out dismissals.
It is certain that this is something the England captain would like to work upon as the Pakistan series looms. On the other hand, with 22 Test victories in his kitty already, a clean sweep against Pakistan would make Root England's second-most successful Test captain after Michael Vaughan (26).
Despite being 38, right-arm pacer James Anderson has enjoyed a great run of form of late and there’s another milestone awaiting him as he gears up to face Pakistan in the first Test. Duly expected to spearhead England’s bowling attack at Old Trafford, Anderson is just 11 wickets shy of becoming the first pacer to reach the 600-wicket mark in the longest format of the game.
Anderson, alongside Stuart Broad, has enjoyed great success against Pakistan’s top order. The pair picked 18 wickets between them in the 2018 series. One more wicket and the the duo will become the second-most deadly combination in Test cricket with 896 dismissals, after Warne-McGrath pair (1001 wickets). On a personal front, Anderson has loved playing against Pakistan captain Azhar Ali, having dismissed him seven times in 443 balls since their first meeting in 2010 while conceding a mere 153 runs.
Shaheen Shah Afridi
England lost a whopping 20 wickets to left-arm swing during their series against New Zealand and South Africa before facing the West Indies. And this is one of the reasons why they were initially toppled by the Caribbeans, and this is exactly where Pakistan can strike while using their young prodigy Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Afridi is yet to play against England in the longest format, yet it is safe to say that he remains one of their most lethal weapons. The 20-year-old is just eight Tests old but has picked 30 wickets at 27.96, which includes three four-wicket hauls and one five-wicket haul. An absolute asset for Pakistan, Afridi will be one to keep a keen eye on.
Pakistan captain Azhar Ali hasn’t really enjoyed fruitful outings against England’s pacers, to say the least. The 35-year-old, like his underwhelming form against James Anderson, has struggled against the likes of Stuart Broad and even Chris Woakes, with the former dismissing him six times and the latter getting the better of him on three occasions.
In a hope of making progress in the ICC Test rankings, the skipper will have to lead from the front if he intends to churn out a positive outcome against an in-form England team.
Feature image courtesy: AFP/ Lindsey Parnaby
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